By Mica Anderson
With New Zealand’s national election been and gone, the re-elected Prime Minister, Labour’s Jacinda Ardern, has been thrust into the spotlight once again. Ever since her appointment to the position in 2017, she has graced articles in every publication from Business Insider to Cosmopolitan. She has been lauded for governing proudly as an unmarried pregnant woman, for her liberal policies, and, most recently, her excellent (if stringent) handling of the coronavirus pandemic in New Zealand. If I had a penny every time I heard ‘can New Zealand lend us their leader for a bit?’ over the past 6 months, I wouldn’t need to worry about furlough.
What exactly has caused a worldwide Jacinda-craze? Well, at a base level, she is a female leader, and a liberal one. Those are few and far between, even nowadays. Automatically, people sit up and notice her for simply existing in the political sphere. If we take a closer look at her governing style, she is strong-willed, well-spoken, opinionated - her speeches are endless Twitter-fodder (#GIRLBOSS, am I right?), and the young, technologically literate people like that. But there’s something more than that, as well - her country has re-opened; New Zealand is practically back to normal. And all throughout the crisis, she spoke honestly and openly to her people. Her measures were harsh, but necessary. And on the trail for her election campaign, which she won with a landslide victory, she was polite and personable.
Simply put, she is a leader that cares about her people. And that, in 2020, is a novelty. We can hardly believe it - a politician that works in the best interests of the people they’re ruling? A politician that makes decisions about their nation’s well-being based on scientific fact? A politician that exhibits a shred of empathy? It seems like a cruel joke that while Jacinda tours fully reopened universities, Americans will soon have to choose between two elderly alleged sex offenders as to which of them should lead the United States through the downward spiral that is the coronavirus pandemic.
Here in the UK, it’s not much better. March’s lockdown, spearheaded by Boris Johnson, seemed to create a moment of unlikely bipartisanship. But as we dive into the second wave, there is a real sense of fatigue with a Prime Minister who can’t even pronounce ‘contact tracing’ correctly. Ardern’s political peaks serve as a stark contrast to the deep, deep valleys we’re going through elsewhere. And I don’t wish to undermine the work she has done, nor the way she treats the citizens of New Zealand, but I find it depressing that she is treated as a beacon of leadership when she does exactly what is required of her - she leads. We need to demand better of our own government, so her style of leading is the base expectation, and not the model.
No leader is perfect, that much is true, but public opinion of both New Zealand and the world shows that Ardern has, at least in these overwhelming circumstances, passed the proverbial test. If you’re looking for a palate cleanser from circuit breakers and disastrous debates, take a break with the Kiwi election trail. Reminisce about times when you, too, could feel the hope, as a young person, in a political leader - and mourn that fact that yours blames you for the second wave, and that you can’t even go to the pub to forget about it all.